Dominic Lawson: You have confirmed my worst fears - and impressed me with your humanity

There is the suggestion that a view, because it is not the view of the great majority, is heretical
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The Independent Online

What possessed the editor of this newspaper when he asked me, at the end of last year, to write a twice-weekly column for The Independent? I suspect, knowing his love of controversy, that he wanted a bit of a dust-up between author and readers. Well, if that is the case, some of you have certainly obliged.

I especially treasure a letter from Mr Richard Husbands of Sports Logistics: "So you were raised in rarified privilege getting raped by your housemaster, brainwashed to think of football as plebeian - good for you. Why feel the need to sound off about it? I don't like witless fat ugly cunts who rode on their father's coat tails but I don't need to share this dislike with the nation ... Fair enough, The Independent hired the spoilt, talentless, delusional crypto fascist to rile people but, Christ, how can you read through your crap and think it's worth sharing. Why don't you fuck off back to the fifties, you hack?"

In defence of my old prep school headmaster, I should point out that he was a passionate supporter of Watford FC and his idea of rewarding those of us in the school soccer team was to take us to see Watford play Millwall at The Den - though it might be argued that such an experience would definitely be enough to put any sensitive young soul off professional football for life.

No, what made me treasure Mr Husbands' letter was that it was a response to a column which was critical of the behaviour within professional football, and I couldn't have wished for a better example of the sort of language which many other readers said had stopped them taking their children to football matches.

I am not disputing Mr Husband's description of me as a "fat ugly cunt" - he has drawn at least some of his conclusions from a careful study of the picture at the top of this column - but the other aspect of his letter which interested me was the disinclination to debate the actual arguments put in the column.

When I wrote a piece pointing out that there was a substantial minority of scientific opinion which doubted the theory that man-made carbon emissions were causing a climatic Armageddon - and that if the conventional view was correct there was in any case nothing that this country's citizens could do to prevent it - I received three sorts of replies.

The first sort was interested in my sources and sought further information. The second sort put forward facts or arguments as to why the scientists I cited are wrong. Those letters were well worth reading and, to use a fashionable phrase, advanced the debate.

The third sort was typified by this letter from Tim Bull, which he was kind enough to send to me personally as well as to the editor: "A very sound editorial decision to run Dominic Lawson's opinion on global warming today, 31st March, in the midst of the 'Your World, Your Say' campaign, proving that freedom of opinion is alive and well at The Independent. Had it run in the April 1st edition it may not have been taken seriously - such views are now so extreme that it would have been presumed a hoax.

"Its publication serves one other extremely useful purpose. Appearing in the same edition that contains so many constructive opinions on the need for action, his opinions are entirely discredited. The enormous gulf between the opinions of your huge number of correspondents and his arrogant dismissal of the argument for action should be crystal clear to... those that still matter. The time for Mr Lawson and his fellow capitalist apologists has passed - he should lay down his pen for the majority who care enough to take tough action for the benefit of future generations."

This letter was, in part, a retort to my suggestion that for many adherents the belief that the planet is being destroyed by man-made carbon emissions is like a primitive religious faith. Yet Mr Bull's response reminds me of a theological, rather than a scientific, dispute: there is no attempt to establish the facts about the world. Instead there is the suggestion that a certain opinion, because it is not the view of the great majority, is in some way heretical.

And although Mr Bull, with some wit, appears to praise this newspaper's belief in freedom of opinion, his conclusion is that "only the majority who care enough to take tough action" should be expressing their views in public. That is not my idea of freedom of opinion, and nor, thankfully, is it this newspaper's.

In general, however, I have been very impressed with the quality, and above all the humanity, of the letters that have been sent to the e-mail address at the foot of this column - seldom more so than with correspondence from a prison visitor called Kevin Marman.

I had written about the horrific circumstances of the murder of my wife's cousin, John Monckton, who was head of Legal & General's bond investments. He and his wife Homeyra had been stabbed by a man called Damien Hanson, within months of Hanson's early release, after just six years imprisonment, for attempted murder. I wrote a piece, which, among other things, suggested that the answer to overcrowded prisons was not to let more criminals out early, but to build more prisons.

Mr Marman, with great courtesy, took me through his own experiences and tried to persuade me that I was overestimating the role incarceration had in reducing crime, and of the benefits that could accrue from what he called "restorative justice and rehabilitation". Mr Marman is exactly the sort of reader I hoped to reach when I joined this newspaper as a columnist - even if I am not exactly the sort of writer he hoped to read when he started taking The Independent.

The same article also provoked a letter from Mr Simon Malloni, who began: "I've tried to quell my indignation that a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph is now articulating his smug views in a paper such as The Independent, but your article on the purpose and importance of prisons has left me seething with indignation. While I appreciate that the loss of a friend of yours to an appalling crime is tragic (though how many lives are ruined by investment bankers?) you are surely abusing your journalistic power by trying to base an entire penal philosophy upon Mr Monckton's untimely demise."

Mr Malloni is a member of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority, and is described on its website as its "lead member for criminal justice." I am intrigued that a man in such a position feels able to argue some sort of moral equivalence between the handiwork of the man who stabbed John Monckton to death in front of his family and the victim's own choice of career. My sympathies in this case are with the Devon and Cornwall Police.

Nevertheless, to Mr Malloni, as to all the readers of this column, I offer my thanks for your patience. Happy Easter.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

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